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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on January 29, 2017

4th Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (RCL): Micah 6:1-8; Ps. 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,

be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

         From the Old Testament reading today: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  These are powerful words that are quoted often.  The prophetic voice of Micah to the people in Jerusalem announces the expectation of all of God's people.  Do justice.  Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.

         I wonder, when you hear these words today, how do they resonate with you, or perhaps how they convict you?  I ask because of the recent transition in the leadership of our country and the events that are swirling thus far.  Do justice?  Love kindness?  Walk humbly with your God?  These words certainly both resonate with and convict me at the same time.  It's been quite a week.  Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more!

         In Micah, we see a court room drama playing out.  With mountains and the foundations of the earth serving as jury, God brings an indictment against Israel.  God has "wearied" Israel with a long history of savings acts.  But God does not seek or expect lavish sacrifices in attempts to earn divine favor.  Instead, God empowers the people to do justice, to love loyalty to God, and to walk intentionally, deliberately in God's service.

         As I said, it's been quite a week!

         Last Saturday began with Breakfast Bible Study here at Immanuel, looking at scripture that confronted us with loving our enemies and judging others.  Afterward, I drove my wife, sister-in-law, and a friend to the metro to join the Women's March on Washington; I went home to watch many of the speeches courtesy of C-SPAN.  That evening, we joined some other friends for a small concert to benefit Syrian Refugee Relief.

         During the day, I heard Some speak with authority.

        I heard Some speak because of celebrity.

         I heard one speak and sing from compassion.

         I heard and watched Most speak and act in anonymity.

        But from where I sat, All spoke loudly.

        Because they felt they must to DO JUSTICE.

         Because they felt they must to DO KINDNESS.

         And for many that I know, they felt they were walking with God while doing these actions.

     

In a recent interview with the Episcopal News Service, our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry described his participation as an African American man during the Civil Rights Movement as it related to the elected leaders of the country.  Bishop Curry said, "people prayed and protested at the same time.  We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got off our knees and we marched on Washington."

         This is what we are seeing around the world today.  These are the voices I heard last Saturday.

THIS Friday and Saturday out in Reston, your clergy and our Convention delegates were doing the business of the Episcopal Church here in Virginia.  The keynote speaker was The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, Diocesan Bishop of Atlanta (GA).  His address responded to how Faith in the Public Square might play out.  He paraphrased the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  when he said, "Justice is Love revolting against anything and everything that is not Love."  He added words from Malcom X, "Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something."  We heard similar words from our own Diocesan Bishop Shannon Johnston in the forum hour last week. "We can't do everything, but we can do anything!"

         At our Eucharist at Diocesan Convention on Friday, Bishop Wright said one thing that stuck with me.  He said, "Enflesh the stuff, be the thing."  Like Christ, who stepped up and "left the gated community of heaven" to come among us, so are we called to be the Body of Christ, to step out of our homes and into our streets, to amass in cities across the country and around the world, to raise loud voices in airports and at authority, to "do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God."  Bishop Wright said "We can make peace with people because peace has been made with us."

         Then, in our Gospel reading, Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount by naming those who are blessed in the reign of God.  This is the first of four weeks in Chapter Five of Matthew.  This is the opening proclamation of Jesus' ministry, and it is the longest of Jesus' teachings that is recorded in the New Testament.  It's a powerful beginning that names all these unusual ways that God's people are blessed.  Blessed.  Fortunate.  Happy.  Standing firm.  These "Blessings" are funny things.

         And they have been with me all week, just like Micah's call to action.

         In her book, "The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief," Jan Richardson writes, "Whether offered in the formality of liturgy or woven through the rhythms of daily life, blessings invoke God's care for all manner of people, activities, and objects, illuminating the presence of the sacred that inhabits and intertwines with the ordinary."

         With regard to personal tragedy involving her husband's unexpected death, Richardson continues, "Like a thin place, a blessing can help us perceive how heaven infuses earth, inextricably from daily life, even when that life is marked by pain.  In the midst of grief, when our loss can make the boundary between worlds feel horribly solid, insurmountable, and permanent, this comes as a particular grace."

         Blessings are NOT always what we think of as good.  They are NOT always bestowed on us in ways that others might see as beneficial.  Do not be fooled by the so-called prosperity gospel preachers that equate God's favor and "blessings" with more money, more fame, more stuff!  That doesn't matter to God.

         God's blessings, as Jan Richardson says, show us the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

         So, back to the Saturday concert ...

         Robbie Schaefer, of Eddie From Ohio fame, and an accomplished solo artist in his own right, held a benefit concert last Saturday at Jammin' Java in Vienna for Syrian Refugee Relief.  He highlighted his own efforts, borne out of frustration, anger, and feeling helpless after watching the evening news about the on-going crisis in and from Turkey.  Robbie and his non-profit organization, OneVoice, began volunteering and relationship-building at Pikpa Solidarity on the island of Lesvos, Greece; Pikpa is a small "open" (meaning 'accessible' to relief action) camp of 100 refugee residents who are Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis.

         Robbie describes the people living in Pikpa as family, for better and worse.  He found grace, love, art, enthusiasm, as well as disagreements, and jealousy among peoples of different nations and faiths.  Most importantly, He found God's children and, he will tell you, claimed them for his own family.  One of his songs was titled, "I've Got a Girl in this War," which he shared with her photo on the wall behind him.

         She is 11 this year.

         Robbie considers her and all the other children he met, along with their parents and adopted aunts and uncles and grandparents, as blessings to him.  He wants us all to know about these meek, these mournful, these sometimes poor in spirit people, who are waiting in limbo for decisions to be made about them in which they have no control.  THIS little place, these few people, are the kingdom of heaven.

         In the interest of participating in the March last week, I crowdsourced (that means I put out a question to the internet universe!) the reasons why my social media friends marched.  From all over the country, I heard words of solidarity with different groups, I heard calls to justice for those who are oppressed or persecuted.  I was told of desires to make unity out of diversity.  I was sent messages that LOVE WINS, regardless of political agendas.  NONE of my people (I have a loving family, obviously!!) marched to counter anything or anyone EXCEPT HATE.

         What I come away with after this outpouring of witness from my friends, from reading many other examples and watching news reports, is that last Saturday and continuing this week, we have watched people all over the world respond to the call to DO JUSTICE and LOVE KINDNESS.  Not everyone agreed with each other, not everyone got up and marched or worked for their cause for the same reasons, not everyone did the same thing.

         But that's what we do as children of God in a very large family.  We love, we get angry, we disagree, we argue, we stomp off and then turn around.  As Robbie Schaefer saw, we create relationships out of difference, and learn how to coexist.  I think the raw emotions this week are our growing pains in learning how to do all these things, most especially how to coexist.  LOVE WINS.

         God's kingdom on earth is vast.  I cannot see or understand the completeness of it, but I can trust that it is all of God's creation.  I can see the different ways we live and move and have our being, and I can see the blessings that offers to me, to you, to each of us.  We are the kingdom.  God created us uniquely, and uniquely loved.  How we each DO JUSTICE, LOVE KINDNESS and walk HUMBLY will be different, because of our uniqueness. And each of us will be blessed and be blessings in our own ways. I hope I always remember that.

         AMEN.